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Rally supports governor's killer

Islamic extremists have rallied in support of the confessed killer of a liberal Pakistani governor and protested against Pope Benedict XVI for urging the scrapping of blasphemy laws stipulating death for those who insult Islam.

Right-wing Muslim groups rallied against any move to change the laws after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy, attracting local and international condemnation.

Governor Salman Taseer was among the critics of the judgement and he was last week gunned down by guard Mumtaz Qadri, who later said he was motivated by Mr Taseer's stance on the laws.

Around 1,000 protesters gathered near the house of the confessed killer in Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad, carrying banners in support of him. Protesters also took to the streets in Karachi and two other cities in support of the laws and against the remarks by the pope last week, with one placard reading: "Pope Benedict's statement is an attack on the hearts of Muslims."

Last week, some 40,000 people protested in Karachi in support of Qadri, shocking many liberal Pakistanis and raising concern about growing extremism in the country.

The government, which is struggling against al Qaida and Taliban militants, has since stated it has no plan to amend the blasphemy laws. Analysts believe the government is too weak to pick a fight with Islamist forces, which are able to rally thousands of people on the streets even though their political parties only have a few seats in parliament.

Benedict spoke out against the blasphemy laws by saying that they should be repealed because they were used as a pretext for violence against non-Muslims.

Also in Karachi, police said 10 people had been killed over the last 24 hours in what appears to be a fresh round of ethnic and political violence. Police officer Rafiq Gul said the slayings were "target killings," the phrase used by authorities to describe political or ethnically motivated murders.

Meanwhile, gunmen stormed the house of a female police officer, killing her and four relatives, in an attack in north-west Pakistan. The attack happened on Thursday night in Hangu, a district just outside the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The 50-year-old female officer, Shamshad Begum, had been in the force for several years. Her latest assignment was searching women at checkpoints. Her two sons, daughter and a daughter-in-law were also killed.

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